Nevado Ojos del Salado Trip Report,
December 26, 2010 - January 12, 2011.

Short overview.

We started in La Paz and travelled south towards Chile. Climbing successively higher peaks for acclimatization,
our final goal was the second highest in South America, Nevado Ojos del Salado, 6893 meter.

Here is an overview map of the route travelled.

Our team consisted of 6:

        Duane Gilliland, age 60, North of Seattle
        Petter Bjørstad, age 60, Norway
        Rob Woodall, age 50, England
        Adam Helman, age 50, San Diego
        Greg Slayden, age 46, Seattle
        Adam Walker, age 28, Seattle

Before the Trip, Preparations.

Climbing Permit:
Before leaving home one should apply for and receive a climbing permit from Difrol. (Go to the link Expeditions in the left menu, find the English version of these pages first.)
There is a separate section on climbing Nevado Ojos del Salado. A copy of this permit must be delivered to the Chile border police at Laguna Verde. When we were there, this building had nobody on duty and we were informed that we could leave our climbing permit under the door. The final step is to pay the climbing fee, US $ 160.- (2011). This is most conveniently done to the local ranger that stays at the Atacama Base Camp.
Clothing, Boots, Tents and Climbing Gear:
Good clothing for winter mountaineering in Norway is largely adequate. On summit day, I used my Scarpa plastic boots, Devold wool, a fleece layer and an outer Goretex layer. My leather Sportiva Nepal boots would most likely also have worked. For the first 3 hours, I was cold on my fingers and toes, however, this was probabely due to the slow pace. As soon as Rob and I pulled ahead (the sun also rose), I felt completely ok wrt. heat balance. I carried my Bibler tent along on this trip and we made good use of it, but not on Ojos. The ranger provides two large tents (each sleeps 20) at the Atacama base camp and the refugio Tejos sleeps 6 people. This worked out pretty good, whatever team is going for the summit should clean out the refugio and descend back down to the base camp. In this way, at least 6 people may try for the summit each day. I used my multifuel Primus, but stayed with the propane-buthane cartridges throughout the trip. At Tejos, this was very convenient as the only good place to cook is on top of the dining table.
When we were there, one could climb Ojos without ever stepping on snow. Thus, more weight was saved by not bringing ice axe and crampons higher than base camp. However, in some years this equipment is needed so always bring it along to base camp.
We carried harnesses, a short 30 meter climbing rope, a few slings and a little rock pro, for the climb of the Argentine summit. I had been completely unable to obtain any reliable information on how difficult it would be to climb both summits from the Chile side. As it turned out, this climb did not pose any difficulties and we never needed the climbing gear. There is a fixed rope on the Chile summit and the ranger claimed that this rope was replaced every year.
Route planning:
Adam Helman took care of most of the planning, agreeing on vehichle rentals, getting local maps, identifying possible peaks to climb including alternatives etc. Overall, this is quite a bit of work that I often do myself. I enjoy planning trips since seeing how the planning phase and the execution phase comes together adds an important element to my overall trip experience. It was, however, a nice change to leave the work and responsibility to somebody else. In this case, I prefer to stay out of the planning as much as reasonable while still expressing opinions when this was clearly expected. A good evidence can be seen from my "ojos" email folder containing hundreds of messages, but very few own contributions. A point that should be mentioned is the extensive use of Google Earth, satelite images for detailed trip planning. We were able to spot small dirt roads, barely tracks from 4WD vehichles, record the coordinates into our GPS units before the trip, and then inform our driver that "in 1.2 kilometer, we expect to turn off the road to the right", following a smaller access track towards our target mountain etc. This worked well and it was impressive to notice such accurate navigation based on prior research from home.
Adam did a good job and we all agreed that the plan we ended up adopting served the overall purpose and the team quite well.

Day 0, December 27th.  -  Travel and arrival in La Paz.

My flight was without any trouble. I left Bergen in the morning on December 26th., travelled via Amsterdam and Lima before landing in La Paz. I had a couple of hours in Lima and enjoyed looking at the pretty good souvenir shops displaying Inka inspired products. La Paz is likely the highest major airport in the world, it is not often that commercial airplanes must lower the cabin pressure in preparation for landing. The airport is located above 4000 meter of elevation and the arrival hall is equipped with emergency oxygen bottles for passengers that are affected by AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) immediately upon arrival.
A driver from Topas (the agency providing our cars and drivers) met me and took me to hotel Eldorado. The drive is quite interesting as the center of La Paz is located in the bottom of a rather steepish looking canyon. Thus, you see all the city lights as you descend in zig-zag turns from the flat area above. Along the drive, I was informed by a somewhat concerned driver that the government had doubled the price of gasoline effective tomorrow.
My arrival time was shortly after midnight, so the efficient transport to a bed and a somewhat overdue night was very welcome. I had vivid dreams as is normal when first sleeping at high elevation, then woke up by Greg entering my room. His flight had an early morning arrival and he effectively ended my sleep around 0700.
Somewhat alarming news, the two other in the party, Duane and Adam W. had lost their onward connection in Miami. With only one flight a day, they would now arrive in 24 hours, a full day delayed. Adam H. and Rob had already arrived and were on their way south to Potosi, our agreed place to meet, from where we would proceed as a single team.
We rested a bit, then set out to buy some provisons, I wanted to look for propane-buthane for my stove and Greg wanted a pair of hiking poles. La Paz is a colorful city, with lots of people using national costumes. One quickly observes the difficult situation for poor, homeless people. I gave this mother a contribution feeling sad when thinking about the future of her small children. Later, I walked by three young boys that most likely tried to manage without a home and without parents.
Our hotel was near the center, next to an impressive statue and with a good view directly to Illimani, a peak of 6438 meter overlooking the city.
We were pretty successful when my phone rang. It was Rob, he said that they had been unable to buy gasoline due to widespread protests against the doubling of the price. In fact, they were concerned that our planned journey would be difficult to carry out and that flying to Chile might be a better plan given the very unsettled situation.
The situation had forced them to return to La Paz, rather than going south to Potosi. We all met at the Topas office in the afternoon to assess this unexpected situation. Greg and I were perhaps the strongest in favor of staying with the original plan and tackle the possible issues if and when they happened. This ended up being the overall conclusion and we now planned how to proceed the next day.
The turn of events carried a few new options. It was agreed that Greg would go to the airport and pick up Duane and Adam W., then proceed to lake Titicaca for sightseeing before driving south to the city of Oruro. This would help start the acclimatization of our two latecomers in a somewhat gentle way. The following day, they should climb an easy mountain located near Oruro before travelling to Potosi. Rob and Adam H. had already climbed this peak and could provide first hand information about the route.
Meanwhile, I could head south with Adam H. and Rob, climb a planned peak, Cerro Wila Chanca, continue to Potosi and climb the famous Cerro Rico, then meet the full team at our planned hostel lodging in Potosi. A definite advantage was the immediate distribution of 3 people per vehichle. The original plan had people split in a 4+2 way (since Duane and Adam W. joined the expedition late), however, to travel with our Toyota Landcruiser having 4 people plus the driver had been a near hopeless situation. Thus, it was extremely fortunate that we were 6 people and not 4 as originally envisioned.

Day 1, December 28th.  -  We climb Cerro Wila Chanca.

We started early and met our drivers shortly after dawn. Adam H., Rob and I would drive with Luis, while Adam W., Duane and Greg would be driven by Germann.
Driving south, I saw this high plateau landscape for the first time. We drove by Oruro, where Rob and Adam H. had stayed two days earlier, then continued to the small village of Poopo, located a bit to the left (east) of the main highway. Our goal was the highest peak in the range that runs parallel with the highway on the east (left) side. We drove through the village and found a road leading further east, essentially near a pretty dry river. A road could also be seen a bit further right and at somewhat higher ground, but (for some reason) this was closed to traffic. Driving through this natural cut in the range, we emerged on the eastern side and turned south. Due to good prior research we had no trouble finding a small road forking right and getting back to the lower slopes of the mountain. This road ended near a few local farm houses. There were people living here and our driver spoke briefly to a man. Pretty old and original buildings, also a small herd of lama animals seemed to belong here.
We started out around 1045 and headed uphill, then gradually more righ as we avoided several ravines that extended uphill. We hit the main crest south of the south summit, then followed the high ridge to the top, arriving there around 1245. Somewhat to our surprise, we seemed to be on the highest peak. Our map clearly indicated that the north summit should be the higher, but our judgement told otherwise. The summit had a proper trig. point marker and commanded a nice view all around, perhaps particularly good towards the west.
See also the more specific description of this climb. After 10 minutes, we descended to the saddle and climbed the north summit. As we suspected, this summit was indeed lower. Besides this discrepancy, both summits were higher than the map elevation, my GPS read 4700 on the south summit and 4690 meter on the north summit. We had arrived on the north summit by 1330, we rested a while before heading back down to the connecting saddle.
From here, the plan was to head downslope on a descending traverse that would get us back down to the same area where we started our ascent. However, I soon discovered that I was ahead of Adam and Rob. Waiting for them to catch up, Adam soon appeared. I asked him about Rob and he indicated that Rob was only a few meter behind. Appearently, Rob had made a brief stop which explained the sudden separation. I continued a few more meter, then waited for Adam to catch up, however this time Rob was nowhere to be seen. Somewhat puzzled, I asked Adam to wait while I backtracked and looked for Rob. Still no Rob. What could possibly have happened? I went further back along a pretty high line in order to be able to look downslope. No Rob to be seen anywhere. Finally, I decided to head back down to the place where Adam was waiting. This search had taken a full hour. Rob had taken a higher line and was waiting down by the car. Lesson learned, when you are behind, then make sure the guys ahead understand what is going on.
A violent thunderstorm moved in. As soon as we were in the car, Flash-Craack-Booom! Good to be down. Our plan called for camping here. Plan changed. New plan: drive south and locate lodging under a roof. We ended up in the town of Callapata. Quite a nice hostel and not expensive. We went out and explored the local restaurants, pretty good, we all got an evening meal.

Day 2, December 29th.  -  We climb Cerro Rico.

We got up pretty early had breakfast just outside our room, on some interios steps, before continuing to the city of Potosi. We were on the road by 0700 and after a few hours of driving and we were in Potosi, a rather large city with people everywhere. Driving to the higher part of town, we located the entrance to the Rico mountain. Its silver ores supplied Spain with tremendous wealth. We located a possible parking area, then ran into a young boy that wanted to guide us. He suggested driving a bit higher.
After arriving at our new and higher trailhead, Adam discovered that he had left his backpack behind at our first stop. Cause for alarm, he had everything of value there, travel documents and money. They rushed back down while I waited and looked a bit around. Several small children (boys) were playing around, sometimes just sitting at the edge of the road. Adam returned with his pack, a lady had taken care of it, she got some well deserved "finders fee" for her good action.
We started hiking by 1115 and hit the summit at 1220. The view back down to the city as well as across to nearby mountains was quite nice despite a bit unsettled weather. A more detailed description of the climb is available. We left by 1235 as clouds were rapidly closing in. The car was reached in an hour. Our next goal was the hostal in Potosi where we should meet the other 3 climbers.
On the way there, still in the upper part of town, our driver ran over a dog and killed it. This caused an immediate commotion. Lots of people reacting in our immediate vicinity. One guy carried the dead dog, a few girls were weeping. We had only moved extremely slowly, the dog must have sneaked in before the wheel. Obviously, the people in the street wanted some sort of compensation. The entire situation was very unfortunate, but obviously best left to our local Bolivian driver to handle. He went out and had some rather lengthy arguments. At last, it seemed that people came to the same conclusion, we had not really been driving, just moved a couple of meter, so they agreed that the dog could only blame himself.
We stayed at a very nice and obviously internationally popular hostal named Hostal La Casona. This was quite near the center of town, colorful people with traditional dresses. Also easy to see that this was the holiday season, between Christmas and New Years day.
I wanted to visit the local children's village where Heidi and I support a boy, now young man, Daniel. This place, Aldeas Infantiles SOS Bolivia, was located at the lower end of this very high city. Our driver should be back by 1400, however, he now ran into several road blocks with people protesting the new, high price of gasoline. He proceeded by taxi to the next barricade, then on foot, arriving more than one hour late. Good effort, but I needed a driver with a car. Adam came along as interpreter and we hired a taxi to get to the childens village.
The village was really nice, family houses scattered around with nice walkways and green lawns. A pretty nice playground and quite a few happy children running around. I visited the main office and asked about Daniel. Unfortunately, he was spending a couple of holidays with an uncle living quite a bit outside of Potosi. Too bad, but not much to do about it. I left some money for him and an equal amount for the village, before going back with another taxi.
Later, we walked through the central part of Potosi, and had a nice dinner at restaurant La Candelaria. Coming back, what a great surprise: Daniel and two of the girls from the village were sitting in the reception area waiting for us. We had a short conversation, Daniel was a bit shy, not surprising, suddenly meeting a foreigner to whom he has been sending christmas cards. We walked a few blocks to his bus stop, it was really nice, Daniel told me that he was now taking classes to become a computer technician. I would leave Potosi with a strong committment to continue our support of orphan children in Bolivia. The SOS Childrens Village is able to give a child what he/she should always have, a safe place to grow up, with adults that provide care and love, a place to play and quality school to prepare for a meaningful future.

Adam W., Greg and Duane did also show up, we were now all set for driving south into Bolivia.

Day 3, December 30th.  -  We climb Cerro Cunurana.

We got underway fairly early and drove back up past the entrance to Cerro Rico, this time continuing across its key saddle and heading generally south along Hwy. 1. According to our home work using Google Earth, there were two possible access roads. We decided to try the approach from the south, longer, but we thought more likely to be a sufficiently good road. Go see the more detailed description of the climb.
We had a good hike, the first as a team of 6. Our acclimaization schedule was quite agressive, in particular for Duane and Adam W., attempting a peak exceeding 5000 meter on their third day in Bolivia. It was obviously a tough day for most of us, but the route was nice, the vertical gain quite modest, we all felt this was a very nice climb.
We continued driving south to the small village of Tupiza. Here, we filled gas and also took an extra 120 liter on the roof of each landcruiser.
We continued in the direction of Uyuni, planning to climb Cerro Chorolque along the way. The first part of this drive was just extremely scenic. Fantastic landscape in evening light. This was indeed a mix of the best visual impressions from Utah and Arizona, put together in its own unique way.
We found a pretty nice place to camp on the left hand side of the road and best of all, we were above 4000 meter, excellent for ongoing acclimatization.

Day 4, December 31th.  -  We climb Cerro Chorolque.

We woke up at first daylight, already at 0515. On the road by 0635. Todays plan called for climbing Cerro Chorolque, it did gradually appear off to our right. The road crossed interesting landscape with quite a few Lamas nearby. I made several unsuccessful attempts to take photos, it is harder than one thinks from a car on a dusty dirt road. Gosh, this mountain looks steep! We located the small side road serving the mining community of Santa Barbara. It is said that permanent human habitation above 5000 meter simply does not work. Santa Barbara at 4800 meter is likely one of the highest permanent villages on the planet. Before getting to Santa Barbara, we ran into a gate with a security guard. After some communication, we were ok to continue to the village. However, it was clear that the mining office would have a final say in this matter.
Arriving in the village, it soon became clear that the local office was closed. After all, it was New Years Eve. This fact likely saved our project. Our drivers were a bit unsucceessful, but Adam H. argued convincingly and we were told that we could drive a bit higher if we wanted. Excellent news as we drove up above 5000 meter.
The climb and route is described in more detail on its separate page. Adam H. did not feel good and stayed with the vehicles. This was a wise decision as he subsequently developed a blistering headache.
We had a good hike, this mountain was certainly steep, more so on the opposite side. Coming down, we drove back to the main road. A big sign at the road fork announced some sort of European development project. The dirt road now took us via the village of San Vicente,, perhaps best known as the place where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid ended their days in a shootout. The landscape got noticeable more arid and dry, but we could still see some wildlife. What food these animals can find must be critical for survival. Our goal was the small, but pretty well known town of Uyuni. We found (actually our driver suggested) a reasonable, but fully functioning hotel. After dinner, I went to bed and slept well. The other team members did listen (read: were kept awake) to the New years celebration, quite noisy and lasting most of the night.

Day 5, January 1st.  -  Salar Uyuni.

Today started with a side trip to the largest and highest salt flat in the world. About 100 kilometer each way, this is so flat that NASA conveniently uses this property to calibrate satelite orbits. We left Uyuni around 0800 and drove a bit less than one hour before entering the wide expanse, flat all the way acorss to Cerro Tunupa. Solid to drive on and unmistakenly made of salt. We walked around and took some GPS measurements. The elevation readings from our GPS units did not seem to correlate well with the Bolivian maps. No systematic deviation, sometimes higher sometimes lower. My gps unit read 3674 meter, in general agreement with the other units, but about 20 meter high relative to the elevation given by other sources.
Returning to Uyuni, I bought some local fabrics (for Heidi), and we enjoyed a local lunch in a small restaurant near the town center. Subsequently, we set off for the big volcanos located near the Chilean border. The road was rough and for a pretty long stretch, we just turned off the road and drove on a local salt flat.
This was quite nice, a smoother ride and more wildlife. We had taken some GPS coordinates of a possible approach road to Canapa, and to our delight, we did find a track leading off in a promising direction. A few miles up the slope, our drivers were reluctant to continue, but we finally convinced them that the driving was just fine and that a proper base camp ideally should be located a bit higher and in an area where the terrain was slightly more level.
We made camp at elevation 4660 meter, really a nice location and quite ideal with respect to acclimatization. The plan was to stay two nights here and climb Canapa the next day.
There is an interesting plant growing at this elevation. It is green and quite hard. The drivers told us that the road up here had been constructed just in order to harvest this plant. No mining activity here. The people would use this plant as fuel in order to heat their homes through the cold winter.
A beautiful evening, the landscape here is quite something. Evening light on Tomasamil, a lasting memory.

Day 6, January 2nd.  -  We climb Cerros Cañapa.

We set out early at 0630. Traversing slightly right, we gained the distinct ridge and ascended on loose scree and talus. Adam H. did not feel well and stopped at 5300 meter. The 5 other team members summited at 1225. We spent an hour on the top, nice views all around. Checking oxygen saturation on the very summit, Rob recorded an alarmingly low value of only 55%. I have never seen any measurement this low before.
For more information about the climb, check here. We returned to camp around 1600 and had a nice afternoon. Greg's whisperlight stove (brand new!) is not functioning. Adam H. has a stove that burns gasoline. My multifuel Primus runs on propane/buthane mix. It is clear that my stove is needed by the group (Rob, Adam W. and Greg) that is going to Aconcagua.

Day 7, January 3rd.  -  Off-road to the base of Tomasamil.

We broke camp and left by 0800. Today is a rest day. The project is to establish a new camp, hopefully similar to the one we now leave, at the base of Tomasamil. We had a lengthy discussion about objectives. Originally, we had set our eyes at the impressive border volcan Ollague. However, the best way to climb Ollague would be from Chile and then we should have obtained a permit in advance. Our drivers expressed more than reluctance to drive towards a mountain in Chile without the proper permits. Consequently, we decided to climb Tomasamil, a very impressive mountain in its own right.
We drove north and along a dirt road that curved right. However, it soon became clear that no road would get anywhere close to the slopes of Tomasamil. We suggested that we should leave the track and try to drive cross country towards the imposing volcano in the distance. Our drivers agreed, after all, the terrain was pretty smooth, dry, perhaps a bit sandy, but no areas of difficult rocks. The true off-road driving went quite well, slowly but surely our two landcruisers advanced across the flat landscape. We started a gentle climb and it was clear that we again would succeed to establish a good base camp within striking distance of an attractive summit.
We parked and put up camp at elevation 4350 meter. About 300 meter lower than the previous camp, so the climb tomorrow would be a long and tough one. This was certainly a spot with excellent view. We had a large panorama in front of us, a large salt flat, then several impressive peaks in the distance. Several peaks exceeding 6000 meter. We spotted a train that moved across the huge salt flat, it took about half an hour to cross. These 4 high nights with two volcanos each near 6000 meter, should serve us perfectly before we continue into Chile and face our main objective, Nevado Ojos del Salado.

Day 8, January 4th.  -  We climb Cerro Tomasamil.

Rob and I started at 0605. The other 4 had started about 30 minutes earlier. We caught up with the team as we approached the broad, main ridge. Adam H. was still not in perfect shape, but he moved pretty good. I wanted this climb, our last in Bolivia, to be a team ascent. Thus, everybody adjusted their effort and Adam H. summited first. Well deserved after much trouble.
We arrived at 1205, a good 6 hour effort. Read about the climb itself here.
We rested on the summit in 1:15, quite a long summit visit in almost 5900 meter. The climate is exceptionally nice, there are few other places on the planet Earth that can show anything similar. Rob and I had gained 500 vertical meter in the first hour as we caught up with the rest. This shows that we should be well prepared for the next (big) summit.
This climb was longer, but the footing and terrain generally, much better than on Canapa. We were back around 1630, a full day with good exercise. The map shows this summit at 5890 meter, while my GPS read 5853 meter. This reading just confirms the large variability between map and GPS elevations. It seems very likely that Cerro Tomasamil is only climbed once every few years.
The night was nice and cold with the sky again filled with brilliant stars.

Day 9, January 5th.  -  Cross the border to Chile.

Last night was incredibly full of stars. I took some pictures directly from the tent, not easy. We had been told that it was best to show up at the border when it opened at 0800. Thus, we left at 0645 and arrived at the border by 0745. A small place with a single dirt road, and old train that was partly used for firewood, not much to report on. The border police needed electricity to run the computer and the local generator would be started up at 0830. At 0900, we were still being processed. Rob did not have an entry stamp in his passport, oh well, this could be solved by paying 100 Bolivanos. We helped to jumpstart the local bus by pushing it. A local lady had set up shop to sell food to people crossing the border, perhaps the slow processing was a business agreement? Finally, we could proceed about one kilometer to the Chilean entry point. Local time in Chile was one hour ahead of Bolivia, very counter intuitive as Chile is west of Bolivia. Otherwise, the next big thing was custom clearance. Everything off the vehicles and into their office. A lot of work, but everybody were polite and absolutely nothing was of any concern.
Our travel continued and soon we were back on a paved road, Chile has better developped infrastructure than Bolivia. We needed to travel via the Pacific coast as there were no roads going south and staying inland. Our plan was to stay overnight in the city of Antofagasta, however, our driver strongly suggested to stop a bit further south along the main highway. The intended place did not really exist and we ended up driving all the way to the coastal city of Taltal, arriving around 2200. A late Chinese dinner completed our first day in Chile.

Day 10, January 6th.  -  We get to refugio Murray.

We bought another 100 liter of bottled water and got underway approximately at 1000. We followed the main highway to Copiapo, then a smaller road that headed up towards Laguna Santa Rosa. A few mules, otherwise little sign of life. This drive was very scenic as we gradually climbed, first in a canyon, later up and across a high saddle. The impressive Tres Cruces came into view. This is high elevation, dry desert. Impressive colors, but not much sign of life. This area is very dry, thus the main features that attracts attention is the changing colors of the sand and rocks. We drove, what is actually a secondary road, before connecting with the main road that connects to Argentina. Finally, our target, Nevado Ojos del Salado, came into view. The day was coming to an end, we wondered if we could reach the Atacama Base camp area already today. We had information that the border police closed at 1900 and that they needed to process our climbing permit. We finally arrived at their building, a short distance after the turnoff down to Laguna Verde, approximately 5 minutes after 1900. Nobody there. Returning to Laguna Verde, we were told that we could put a copy of our DIFROL permit under the door. OK, we drove back and did as instructed before backtracking more and turning off towards Ojos. Shortly after the turnoff, we located Murray, a self service refugio. It was quickly agreed that this would be our lodging. Unfortunately, our drivers fired up a big, but badly leaking stove indoors. This resulted in very bad fumes up on the second floor where I had intended to sleep. I quickly evacuated the entire building and rolled out my sleeping bag at the patio. The night was crisp and clear, again the stars being an extra bonus. Before going to bed, we carefully looked into our summit options. We had 4 days, the two most sensible options were as follows:
Option A: Do a carry to high camp on day 1. Move to high camp on day 2. Attempt the summit on day 3. If not successful, make another attempt on day 4.
Option B: Move to high camp on day 1. Attempt the summit on day 2. Move to base camp regardless on day 2. If not successful, go back up to high camp on day 3. Make a second summit attempt on day 4.
We quickly agreed that Plan B was preferrable.

Day 11, January 7th.  -  To refugio Tejos.

Adam H. was still not feeling well, a bad cough had bothered him on most of this trip. He decided (wisely) to stay behind at this quite comfortable refugio. We started out, driving the last one hour on a 4WD road up to the Atacama base camp. This camp is located at 5200 meter, quite high for motorized access. We settled our climbing permits, US dollar 800, for 5 climbers, with the local ranger, then last minute preparations before leaving. The plan was now that our two drivers would remain at base camp until we came back down. The plan called for only one night on the mountain and our first summit attempt already tomorrow.
The ranger could confirm that we would be able to sleep in the bunk beds at high camp, called refugio Tejos. He could further advise that we could follow a route completely free of ice and snow. Consequently, we only needed to carry limited food, a sleeping bag, water, and clothing for our summit bid.
The hike up to refugio Tejos required three hours, we moved up at a moderate pace, no hurry as we would arrive quite early anyway. When we arrived at what is likely the highest useful mountain refugio in the world, another team had not yet returned from their summit bid. The refugio has been built from two metal containers. One serve as general storage, the other has 6 beds, with one bed being essentially our of order. A dining table in the corner between the two containers completed the picture.
The other team arrived (successful), rested, got organized and then descended to base camp. We tried to sleep early as we had agreed on an early departure the next morning. The early departure was decided upon hearing that a pretty strong wind had been blasting the mountain from around noon every day for quite some time.

Day 12, January 8th.  -  SUMMIT DAY.

See also the peak description for Nevado Ojos del Salado.
We started out at 0415. A cold and strong wind was the most noticeable factor. Our assumption would be that this wind would calm down, hopefully before sunrise. Aside from the wind, the sky was filled to capacity of stars. It is a completely different world, to gaze at the stars from 5200 meter in the darkness of night. No sign of any moon. The scenery is more than memorable, what an incredible universe and what a privilege to experience nature in this way - a very intense way.
Unfortunately, the wind was relentness and showed no sign of weakening. Our team of 5 was moving uphill at snails pace. Despite having dressed for cold weather, my feet and fingers felt colder than I really liked. The sun rose, but unfortunatey, not on us. The route gets sunshine pretty late, I could see the warming rays on the slopes both left and right. First when I was half way up the slope on the left side of the permanent snow field, the first rays of sunshine finally hit me. At this point it was agreed that Rob and I should pull ahead, while Duane, Greg and Adam W. would follow.
Moving at a stronger and more natural pace helped a lot, I now quickly regained heat in feet and fingers. We traversed right above the snow field, then more directly uphill towards the low point of the crater rim. This last section was quite loose scree and pretty heavy going. I walked 20 double steps between each brief stop for extra breathing. Rob caught up with me from behind each time and we continued this regime until we entered the crater. Here, Rob told me he needed energy and I offered chocholate that seemed to do him well. The crater was quite nice, permanent snow, the route circled around, starting left and curving right in order to reach the steeper chute / gully that would gain us access to the notch separating the Argentine (east) summit from the Chile (west) summit. We moved steadily onwards and up towards this notch. The sight of the fixed rope reminded us that we were getting close.
The border between Argentina and Chile crosses both summits, but I had read that one normally climbed the Chile summit from our route, while the Argentine summit was reached from a completely different route starting way down in Argentina.
A careful investigation of the two summits has been carried out. It concluded that the highest rock on the Chile summit (which could have been moved) is 54 centimeter higher than the bedrock on the Argentine summit. If one tries to measure without the summit rock, then the difference was measured to only 8 centimeter. The overall conclusion of this investigation was that the two summits should be considered equal.
The available information was very incomplete with respect to climbing both summits from the same notch. Rob and I carried harness, a 30 meter rope and some rock pro, in order to attempt this, given that weather, our general well being and other factors would permit such an attempt.
I decided to climb the route without using the fixed rope. Initially, up to and slightly passed the notch, the climbing was (YDS) class 3. Turning right at the notch, I soon faced the (small) crux of the climb, a slanted rock slab with few handholds. This place is a bit exposed and there is an obvious foothold all the way off to the right. As soon as you get one hand on the upper side, the problem is solved. This move is (YDS) class 4. The rest was easy, and at 1130, we had reached the Chile summit. There was a very nice metal case with a fancy summit register. However, the wind that was blowing hard when we started out, had shown no sign of calming. In fact, it was blowing worse than ever. Thus, this summit was not a place for any proplonged visit. I took panorama pictures, we signed the register, then started down.
Already when ascending, I had studied a possible route to the Argentine summit. The way to go would be to descend slightly on the far side of the notch, then make a short traverse, followed by a short climb accessing what looked like easier ground. Eager to test this out, we descended and quickly learned that this route is no more than (YDS) class 3. Thus, by 1215 Rob and I was standing on the Argentine summit. Mission completed! regardless of which summit was what, we had now climbed them both. Carefully retracing our route, we regained the sharp notch preparing for our decending back down to the crater.
We were quite happy to notice Greg and Adam W. further down. Soon we greeted them, telling that they were close, generally providing as much encouragement as possible. They were both clearly tired. What about Duane? He had turned back shortly after we separated, having problems with clothing as well as the cold wind. Too bad. Greg and Adam W. continued uphill towards the notch, then the Chile summit and summited.
Meanwhile, Rob and I descended rather efficiently on the loose scree and despite taking 2-3 pretty long rests, we came back to refugio Tejos at 1440.
I spoke to Duane and reminded him that our plan called for two summit attempts. If he wanted to give it a second try, the rest of the team should certainly be supportive. We waited a couple of hours for Greg and Adam W. to return, then allowed for some rest and coordination, before descending back down to the Atacama base camp area.
We slept well in one of the large dome tents provided by the ranger. It had indeed been quite a successful day.

Day 13, January 9th.  -  We rest, Duane prepares for a second try.

The next morning, Duane had made up his mind to give the summit a second try. This implied that we would stay another night at 5200 meter, before descending any further. The good news was that a middle aged man from Spain and his wife were set to climb the peak also tomorrow. Chances would be good that Duane and this party could keep in contact. Additionally, we agreed to talk to Duane via our short range walkie-talkie, evrry hour. Rob volunteered to carry Duane's pack back up to Tejos.
After they left, Adam H. quite unexpectedly showed up.He had bought himself a ride from where he was staying and up to Atacama. He went ahead and purchased a climbing permit, then agreed with our driver Louis to pay him for carrying his backpack up to Tejos. Thus, he would try for the summit together with Duane.

Day 14, January 10th.  -  Three climb Cerro Vicuñas, Duane summits Ojos.

Early this morning Duane and Adam H. started out with their summit bid. Adam soon realized that his cough and general condition prevented any realistic summit chance, he turned back to Tejos. Duane had his day, joined the guy from Spain whose wife had also turned back, and they summited together on the Chile summit, before returning all the way down to Atacama.
Meanwhile, we had decided to leave one car at Atacama for Adam H. and Duane, while driving the other car almost back to the lower refuge, in order to attempt a final climb of a "bonus peak", the Cerro Vicuñas. With acclimatization all taken care of, it was of course, very appealing to attempt another peak exceeding 6000 meter.
We woke up at 0700 and left Atacama with one car shortly after 0800. Adam W. did not feel up to another 6000 meter ascent and decided to stay with the driver. Rob, Greg and I started out around 0905. Already in the very first uphill, I felt a bit weak in my legs and feared that this climb could turn out to be quite hard. We hiked across to the very distinct ridge and began what should turn out to be a very long and heavy ascent. The ground was loose and the wind was very gusty. Higher up, the wind turned ugly and I turned tired. We kept going and I finally ascended a top only to discover that this was a false summit. The real summit seemed far away and separated from me by a col about 45 meter deep (it looked a lot deeper right then). The wind was now blowing with full storm force, we sheltered briefly behind a single rock in the small col. The summit was reached at 1545, almost 7 hours up. I felt that this ascent was harder work than the ascent of Ojos 2 days earlier.
Fortunately, the wind was less pronounced at the very summit. This top had a summit register of the same type as Ojos, very elaborate and very well protected. The most recent ascent had been back on December 25. We left at 1600 and descended back down on scree, returning to the car by 1720.
We all reunited in refugio Murray in the early evening. Duane was beaming with happiness and we all got to share his story of a successful summit bid despite the strong wind.

Day 15, January 11th.  -  We travel to Santiago.

We had an easy morning with no rush. Today is the 11/1/11, lots of ones in this date. We drove off around 0930 all the way back to Copiapo. It turned out that the well known race "Paris - Dakar", would run on our road (then closed) tomorrow. We did spot some guanacos along the road, otherwise a pretty lifeless environment. We made a long stop in Copiapo and found a good local restaurant serving a set menu of three courses. It was quite OK, a salad dish, followed by a tasty meat soup, then a separate meat dish. Total charge came to US dollar 18 (for 6 people!).
We drove 40 kilometer north to the local airport. Time to say goodbye, Adam H. would return to La Paz with the two drivers, then fly home. The rest of us took a flight to Santiago, where Duane would catch his flight back to Seattle. I got some very nice pictures of Aconcagua in evening light from the airplane. Rob, Greg and Adam W. had a next morning flight to Mendoza in order to climb this mountain.
We had one problem, a room for two was booked at the airport hotel, a fancy Holiday Inn. Nobody had remembered to change this reservation to two rooms - what we really needed for a party of 4. Greg and I checked in and we later managed to get Rob and Adam W. to join us. We had a good dinner in the hotel restaurant, it was late and no other options existed.

Day 16, January 12th.  -  Santiago, then home.

I heard my friends leaving early, turned over and slept a few more hours. Packing up, taking the elevator downstairs and checking out. The ladies at the desk looked at the documents, then asked: "How many stayed in your room last night?" I answered politely that I was sorry for the slight confusion obviously caused by the fact that the reservation was in the name of Greg Slayden and Rob Woodall, whereas Mr. Slayden and Mr. Bjørstad had checked in yesterday. They smiled back and proceeded with completing the checkout. I paid 260 US dollars for the room and the dinner we all enjoyed in the restaurant last night.
Walking across to the terminal building, I quickly identified a bus that would get me to some bus terminal "near centro." After about 15 minutes I exited the bus and entered a metro station. The metro seemed to run frequently, I changed twice without any wait and soon emerged back up into bright sunshine at Plaza de Armas. This was the very beginning of Santiago where the Spanish laid out a master plan for the first few streets and buildings. Wow, I am always impressed by the old European style buildings, this could have been in Madrid. A big cathedral, a nice central square, solid buildings that have been around for centuries. This is indeed very different from the USA, you see immediately how the Spanish culture had an impact that never occured further north.
I strolled around and looked at the people and the shops in the nearby streets, then sat down at an outdoor restaurant and ordered a lunch from the Spanish only menu. Needless to say, I was quite pleased when the food was served and I could verify that the meal was quite in agreement with what I had thought I had ordered. The beer came from Puenta Arenas and tasted cold and Antarctic. In fact the meal was so pleasing that I ordered a second serving, food and dring the same. A smiling waitress came back obviously thinking that this was quite a hungry tourist.
I took the metro back to the airport and boarded my 13 hour flight from Santiago to Paris. With longer connects than ideal, I travelled via Amsterdam to Bergen where Pål Jørgen picked me up. It had been a very nice trip, by now it was nice to return home.

Read the excellent trip report by Adam Walker.
Read the trip report by Adam Helman.
Read the report by Rob Woodall.

After the Trip, Wrapping Up.

Heart rate and blood oxygen saturation as plotted here.
Will be posted later.

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